Former US president Bill Clinton has come to Pyongyang on a mission of mercy. He arrived in an unmarked aeroplane in the capital of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea aka North Korea] on Tuesday 4 August 2009. Ostensibly he came to seek the release of two American journalist Laura Lin and Euna Lee, sentenced to 12 years of hard labour for entering the DPRK illegally. At first, the White House denied that he was carrying a personal message from president Obama [BHO], but finally US authorities admitted he was Citizen Clinton was immediately met with the DRPK's Kim Jong il, to hand deliver BOH's greetings.
North Koreans know Citizen Clinton well. They dealt with him for almost his full 8 years in office, especially after the startling and unannounced visit by Jimmy Carter to Pyongyang in 1993. Farmer Carter met with Kim Il Sung, and that meeting relaxed Mr. Clinton's finger on the nuclear trigger and opened years of negotiations with the DPRK; negotiations which put a hold of sorts on Pyongyang's nuclear programme. The high point during Clinton's time in office occurred late in his presidency with the visit of his secretary of state Madeleine Albright. She returned with a good assessment of lead Kim Jong il, and an invitation for her boss to visit the DPRK. Weakened by the Lewinsky scandal and bad advice from Korean experts, Clinton decided not to go. A serious blunder as the 8 years of George Bush proved. Now 8 years and 8 months later, we find Citizen Clinton in the DPRK with a message from BOH whose administrnation had squared off menacingly with Kim Jong il, making a rash show of temper into a taunt and serious situation capable of military action through sanctions, UN Security Council resolutions, and threats to board outbound North Korean vessels on international waters. Hyper nationalist North Korea never shies away from threats; as a response to sanctions, threats, and taunting by Citizen Clinton's own wife US secretary Hillary Clinton, herself a hardliner up and down the line on North Korea, Mr. Kim reactivated the quiescent nuclear programme, exploded a powerful non nuclear underground bomb, launched medium and short range rockets, and tore up the 1953 Armistice agreement turning the Korean War into a potentially hot war again.
On top of this, North Korean courts tried two US journalists who knowingly violated DPRK territory without proper documentation, and who tried to flee when caught, thereby adding another layer of tension between Pyongyang and Washington. At the same time, the arrest of Lin and Lee opened a way to reestablish talking points with Washington. And so, by way of background, we see Citizen Clinton on his mission of mercy to Pyongyang. There he hopes Kim Jong il will allow him to accompany the two reporters home as a sign of his country's good will. Maybe yes, maybe no. Chances are Mr. Kim will seize the opportunity to unfreeze Washington's ice age diplomacy, the more especially since he recently called for direct discussions with the US.
Guam Diary is not the only one to scratch its head over America's penchant for making a bad situation worse or to turn an opportunity into a crisis. BOH took a hizzy fit when in fair warning Pyongyang gave advanced warning that it was going to launch a satellite on a long range rocket. BOH counselled delay; Pyongyang proceed with its plans. Then BOH & co. seized the UN Security Council for sanctions against the DPRK on shaky juridical grounds. And thus the ball of string began unraveling. Such a prescription by the US made little sense in respecting the practices of good diplomacy. It stifled at one fell swoop any chance for valuable conversation; it quashed any initiatives to work out issues on the table at the six party talks in Beijing. The DPRK has abandoned these talks. By this fiat, Pyongyang has knocked the pins out Washington's strategy to used China as a surrogate to wring concession from North Korea, and at the same time, it shows the hollowness of BOH's alignment with the rigid, renewed Cold War strategy towards the DPRK of South Korea and Japan.
As the saying goes, you don't send a boy to do a man's job. The US for many reasons has been loath under Bush's 8 years in office to talk directly with the DPRK. It was willing and BOH, too, adopting the Bush strategy with his hard line secretary of state Mme. Clinton, to out do Bush in mindless stubbornness, to talk to Pyongyang on the sidelines without nary a breakthrough. In brief, the US has to do its own 'dirty work', straw men won't do. The DPRK called BOH's bluff. So seeking Mr. Kim's clemency in releasing two journalist, it is hoped that a new chapter will begin in talks between the DPRK and the US.
American critics will cry 'sellout', but it is the chronic illness of US policy to pay the pound of cure rather than take the ounce of prevention in the beginning.
It is time that Washington end the Korean War once and for all, and expand useful policies which will avoid the endemic pratfalls and errors that it so loves to commit in the conduct of its foreign policy. It's time American diplomats act as diplomats and not like warriors.